“What Will I Leave Behind?”


1/ “What will I leave behind?”

The cycle repeats itself every few months or so.

Schools re-open, and with it come the swarms of new students. Public transportation’s profit sky rockets with the number of students who take buses or trains to commute to their locations of higher learning, and a select few who received vehicles over their brief vacation proudly show them off as they make their way to where they need to be.

The next step is the blind stumbling around the school by the fresh underclass men, the new faces who transferred in from a new school, and those who simply have bad memories. Those of us who do know where they’re going do their best to assist, pointing people here and there while trying to find the places themselves.

Once you get to where you need to be, you meet your home room teachers. Some are veterans, jaded to all things regarding education and more or less giving up on their class the minute they arrive. Others are new, free spirits who like to put all the experimental techniques they learned in college to use in the classroom. Of the two, I myself pity the later; they still have their spirit, after all. Its only a matter of time before its broken mercilessly.

But, of course, this is all only a portion of the cycle. There’s still the after school portion, which consist of living your youth the best you can. However, the youth is draining whether you know it or not, and with it goes your hopes and dreams and ambitions. After a while of living the same monotonous routine, you simply fall into it and never question it. And when the day comes that you die, you look back at everything you’ve accomplished and think one thing.

“…Who will remember me when I die? What did I leave behind to say ‘I was here’?”

I find myself asking this question as my mother pins me to the ground with a smile.

“What’s wrong, Daisuke?” She asks me, wrenching my arm. “You’re out of it today, aren’t you? You usually last another ten minutes or so.”

My mother, Atsuko Mina, is a martial arts instructor. As far back as I can remember, she’s been teaching a style that more or less consist of bastardizing the best of other schools into one, fluid style. If I’m not mistaken, she pulls in quite a profit from it – her students numbers in at least two hundred or so. She’s even gone to tournaments and fared rather well – of the three she participated in, the only one she didn’t take some sort of prize in was the last where she had to drop out due to pregnancy.

Herein lies the issue; because she teaches such a thing, she insist on instilling such a thing in me. Since I was old enough to walk, she’s been trying to teach me everything she knows ‘in case she should need to leave behind a successor.’ I’m grateful for it partially at least – unlike most people my age, I’m in rather good shape because of it, despite the chronic laziness I display.

On the other hand, I’ve retained nothing but a heightened resistance to pain.

“Haven’t I told you?” I say as I squirm underneath the pressure she applies to my body. “I’m not interested in this martial arts of yours! All this is for me is an exercise on how to take a punch!”

“They way you do it,” my mother teases. “You seem like you’re readying yourself for a heaping helping of fist sandwiches. Taking a punch is one thing, but getting the crap kicked out of you on a regular basis is another matter all together.”

“Tch…!!”

I push off the ground and roll, but she clings to my back with a sly grin. I grab her arm and attempt to flip her as I rise, but she meets the ground as gracefully as a cat. She extends both hands with a smile and poses.

“You see that? Balance! If you tried, you could be a spry as me at my age.”

Her gaze turns to her fingernails. “And you haven’t even chipped the paint. Still as green as a blade of grass. Honestly Daisuke, you shouldn’t—Hey hey! Where are you going?”

“I have to get ready for school,” I say, halfway out of the door of the gym. The woman instructs at the house, so where most people have a garage in a western style home, we have a full gymnasium with weights lined against a mirrored back wall. She begins to protest loudly, but I simply turn to face her.

“Listen. You woke me up and proceeded to train me every morning last semester, and what was the result?” I snap my fingers. “Late. Every time, I would arrive as the second bell was going off. Most parents want their child to be on time, you know!”

She shrugs a little shrug in reply. I could tell it was a ‘so what’ motion on her part.

“You managed to explain your way out of it last time, didn’t you? And your teacher became a student here, didn’t he? I don’t see what the problem is with repeating that process. It might—“

“I’m not roping in new customers for you.”

She snaps her fingers with a little ‘darn’ under her breath. But a cat-like smile soon comes across her face.

“Well, if you’re going to skip training, then you had better hurry. I think that you have about thirty minutes or so left. How fast can you get dressed, eat breakfast, and get out the door, Dai~suke?”

“Tch, don’t underestimate me. I’m pretty fast.”

“Hm hm. Lets see it, then? Hop to it, dear!”

With a small smile back in her direction, I run up the stairs. If nothing else, I’m fast enough to shave such a task down to roughly ten to fifteen minutes. Furthermore, the school itself is only five minutes westward from this house. With a good enough sprint, I can—

Uniform on and bag in hand, I clear the stairs like a hurdle and stop at the front door. My mother waits for me with a wave.

“Good bye, Dear. Have a good day at school.”

“I will. I hope.”

“And, would you be an angel and put a few of these up at the school for me?”

A stack of flyers is shoved in my hand. Even knowing what would be on them, a natural reaction made me look anyway—

Atsuko School of Martial Arts~

Ever wanted to learn the techniques of two time world martial arts champion Atsuko Mina?

Well, for a low low fee of—

“…”

“What’s that expression? You look like you swallowed a bug—“

“This is so stupid that eating a bug would look like a genius endeavour…”

I say such a thing, but tuck the flyers in my bag anyway. She holds that smile as I turn to the door.

“…If you get a bunch of weirdos here,” I mutter. “Don’t blame me.”

And with that, I dash.

I, Atsuko Daisuke, live in a city less than ten miles or so outside of Shibuya.

The city itself is like a typical city. There are stores along either side of the road. There are apartment buildings here and there. Tall buildings that house major businesses blot out the sun here and there. And even now, even with school starting back up, there are tourist from outside of the country snapping photos of everything they see in sight.

If you pass through here, there’s another, smaller town nearby. And just beyond that is Shibuya itself. I’m sure you’ve heard of it, or at least the locations in it, like the huge 107 shop that overlooks the entire thing.

Either way, its a nice city. One that you can easily get lost in.

Or, in another way of looking at it, you could easily be forgotten in it if you don’t stand out.

“This is one of those places,” I mutter to myself. “Where you could just be another face in an endless crowd…”

I tack up one of the flyers my mother gave me on a light post. Zipping the bag back up, I make my way towards the school in the distance – Seven Sisters High School.

Seven Sisters High School, if I remember correctly, received its name after a contest, where people in the city got to vote for a name. Supposedly, the name Seven Sisters comes from a video game; I remember there being this big uproar about changing it, but the people agreed to keep it and it’s been so named ever since.

And just as I thought earlier, the cycle is already beginning. People are scurrying about at the front gate hysterically, gathering in groups and seeking out old friends from the previous year. The number of people at the gate is so thick that pushing through it would require something on par with a large oar or such.

“How am I supposed to get to the door like this—“

“Oi! Atsuko!”

I turn at the sound of my name. A familiar guy waves at me, with an unfamiliar guy in tow. The two of them stop in front of me, the more familiar of the two beaming as I sigh.

“Isn’t it early,” I ask. “You shouldn’t be shouting so loudly at this time of morning, Tsurugi.”

I met Tsurugi Jin, the more familiar of the two, last year. He sat next to me in home room, I believe, and we became friends for the remainder of the year. Well…the meaning of the word friends is rather vauge, isn’t it? Perhaps the correct turn of phrase would be a guy I happened to talk to here and there last year and, on very rare occasions, hang out with.

He would probably believe it was the more traditional definition, however.

“I don’t think you’re being loud enough,” he grins, twisting a bit of his hair with his hand. “You should be more excited, man! We’re in our second year, right? We’re moving up in the world!”

Lets focus on that hair for a moment, shall we – if nothing else, the young man in front of me has one of the most impressive afros I’ve even laid eyes upon in my life. I’m not sure if he has some sort of ethnicity in his blood that causes it or if he just has that kind of hair, but the thing I’m looking at looks like something an old US basketball player would wear on the top of his head.

Looking away from it – I was spending too much time pondering how much it had grown – I looked in the direction of the unfamiliar person.

“…Where did he kidnap you from?” I asked. Then, leaning in, “I suggest you run faster next time you see him.”

The guy puts on a smile. “I’m Miwa Tetsuya, sempai. I knew Tsurugi-sempai from middle school. Its my first year,” he then leans in as well. “And believe me, I tried to run, but he’s a lot quicker than he looks.”

“Might I suggest running in a zig-zag pattern? His brain can’t keep up with that.”

The two of us share a light laugh as the one being spoken about watches on in confusion.

“…You two…are getting along well.”

“At your expense, of course,” I smile. “Tsurugi, who’d you get for homeroom?”

“I got Sakamoto-Sensei again. Looks like she went up a grade.”

“Eh, really? I got some new guy…Aiwa, I think it was.”

“Aiwa-sensei? Huh, that means we’re in different classes this year…”

Thank god. Sitting next to you again would be too much for me to handle for two years in a row. Last time…you have no idea how many times you were close to being punched in the face, Tsurugi. No idea.

“Tragic,” I smile falsely. “We’ll have to manage somehow, I guess.”

“Mm. Well, you had better go find it. You’ll be late otherwise!”

“Yeah, I—“

Something catches my eye in the crowd. I blink, but it catches my eye once again. A trail of red hair, as red as a cherry, moves through the crowd, flowing behind a small person like a cape. I follow its path for a while, but it soon disappears into the front doors of the school.

Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who caught sight of it.

“…Was that…red hair?” Tsurugi asks.

“Yeah. Yeah it was,” Miwa replies. “I wonder who that was. Think it was dyed?”

“Maybe. I mean, red hair?”

“…Hm,” I stare at the door still. I remember the school rules on dying hair rather well – something that red, however, violates the whole rule of ‘any color that does not disturb the student body’. Something that bright is like a beacon, almost.

“…Right. We should hurry to class before we’re late,” I shake the thought out of my head in the most literal sense. “I don’t want to leave any bad impressions on this Aiwa-guy.”

“Roger that, captain. Sakamoto-sensei already hates me as it is.”

“Because you—“

“That’s a story for another day, isn’t it? Lets go, man!”

The hallways were just as packed as the front gate was. Squeezing my way through people here and there, I soon leaned to stop apologizing and start pushing. By the time I finally did find the classroom, room 2-3A, a whole right section of the class was taken.

Luckily, I swooped in just in time to take the last window seat. Dropping down in it with a sigh, I hung my bag off the back and—

—Noticed a bright red length of hair on my desk. Trailing it back to its source, a small girl sat in the seat in front of me. Just by looking at the back of her head, I could see this person was small enough to be mistaken for a doll or such at first glance. The small hand that propped her head up was easily dwarfed by mine. I shook my head to get the thoughts of how small she was out of my head and tapped her shoulder lightly.

“Excuse me.”

“Hm?”

She turns around and the hair on my desk goes swishing along behind her. From the look of it, it could easily have been long enough to reach the small of her back. But the question of her hair length was wiped out in favor of the look of her face.

The girl in front of me was absolutely adorable. Everything about her was small, like an elementary school student. Except her eyes. The eyes in front of me were large and round, a green so bright that I avoided looking right at them in fear of them being some sort of lunacy inducing instrument. She smiles sheepishly at me when I held up a strand of red hair left on my desk.

“Sorry about that, I forget how long it is sometimes,” her voice isn’t as high as I though it would be. I almost expected it to be comically high, like a fairy out of a cartoon, but its perfectly normal, just as a high school girl should sound.

“No, its not a problem,” I reply quickly. She stares at me for a moment, but quickly giggles. I fidget uncomfortably, scratching my cheek. “What? Is there something on my face?”

“I should be the one asking that. You’re not looking at me.”

She pokes me with a finger with another giggle. I realize now that I’ve been avoiding eye contact with her all this time. I turn to look her in those green eyes that are bright enough to be luminescent.

“Sorry,” I reply. “Its just—“

“Its all natural, just so you know,” she smiles, now turning her entire body to face my direction. “Don’t worry, I’m used to being stared at. Something about me just makes people want to stare, ya know?”

Well, the fact that you have nearly glowing eyes and crimson hair is a good reason for people to stare at you if I’ve ever seen. And its natural, you say? How in the world is that possible?

“I’m Rei,” she says, extending a hand. “I’m new here. Nice to meet you—“

“Atsuko Daisuke.”

We shake. She frowns ever so slightly while I frown as well.

“Hhm. You gave me your full name. Not fair, not fair.”

“…You…have a rather firm handshake…”

Firm isn’t the word for it. I can feel it; if she tightens her grip any more, every bone in my hand will be crushed. This girl has one hell of a handshake all right. I almost feel like my manliness is being questioned just by touching her hand to begin with.

When she releases my hand a second later, I pull it under the table to rub my knuckles out of sight. But she quickly moves on to another question:

“So how long have you been here, Atsuko-san?”

“This would be my second year at Seven Sisters.”

“Oh wow, your second year! So you know where everything is, then? Good, you can show me around.”

A wide smile crosses her face. But, the more I looked at her, the more she seemed off. Hair and eyes aside, her diminutive stature was also an issue. And her skin tone was rather white. It wasn’t pale, but it was a lot lighter, more fair that other students. It was so light in fact that I could clearly notice the mole under her right eye that would have gone unseen on other people.

If I had to guess—

“So Atsuko-san, what’s this school like? I mean, it’s interesting, right? How are the clubs? Oh oh, never mind that, tell me more about you! What do you do for fun? Do you have any hobbies?”

These questions continued for a while, but I answered her without fail. It was hard to not, anyway; the infectious happiness in her tone had spread to me with no problem and the way her face lit up with every thing I said was like watching a magical little doll that had come to life. The rest of the class began to look in our direction as we had a conversation, watching Atsuko Daisuke speak to this strange little girl named Rei

By the time the bell had rung, the two of us had move on to a first name basis. And the minute our interesting conversation had ended, a man had entered the room.

“Good morning, everyone,” he said with a face full of smiles. “Nice to meet you all. I’m your home room teacher—“

There was a clack of chalk against the board. The man in front of us was the new teacher, Aiwa-Sensei. He ran through his introduction in a normal style; he had transferred from a school up north, though I didn’t catch the name. While he was there, and even still, he was the PE teacher.

“Great, if I want to hit a ball with a racket, I know who to look for….” I grumbled. The thought of physical anything filled me with a sense of distaste. What good would knowing how to play a sport do me later in life?

How will that help me leave anything behind, came the thought that I quickly waved off.

Finally, he claps his hands together.

“Alright. Everyone, lets introduce ourselves!”

This, of course, is natural. Heck, I expected it. One of the students would stand up and, like Aiwa-sensei said, introduce themselves. From there, they would occasionally do something like talk about their interest or even just go for the stock “I look forward to the rest of the year.” Sometimes though, there’d be the one who would stand up and try to tell what they thought to be a funny joke, which would only be met with a weak chuckle.

The process went well. My turn came up—

“My name it Atsuko Daisuke. I’m sixteen, and my hobbies…well, they’re boring. I hope we can have a good year together. Maybe something interesting will happen.”

—And I sat right down. Having came from behind me and moving to the front, that meant that Rei’s turn was next.

She stands up. Not quite clearing her desk, she gives a groan of frustration and then…

“How about this then…”

…She climbs on top of her desk. The classroom is immediately filled with murmurs.

HI! My name is Satsumi Rei! Nice to meet all of you!”

The words that flow out of her mouth are perfect, fluent, unaccented English. Immediately I realize why Rei looked so strange; she’s obviously not from Japan. In fact, if I had to guess…

“I just transferred here from America,” she says, switching languages. “I’m half Japanese, half Irish. So the hair,” she grabs a handful with a smile. “Is a gift from my dad, before you ask. Not dye, nope, not for me. I hope we can all be good friends, my classmates! Nice to meet you all—“

“Excuse me, Rei-chan.”

Someone stands up. All the eyes turn on him immediately.

“Rei-Chan, just now…that was English, wasn’t it?”

“Yes. I’m fluent in it. I was raised there, good sir—“

“What’s it like in America?”

Another person stands up, asking this question.

“Its nothing special,” Rei says. “I wasn’t in New York or anything—“

“Rei-chan, do you have a boyfriend?”

“N-no, not yet. But that might change soon, maybe—“

“Does that mean you’re dating Atsuko-san?”

“No, it doesn’t,” I quickly shout. “I just met the girl!”

A brief silence fills the classroom. Rei takes the opportunity to climb back into her seat. She folds her arms in her seat with a smile and out of the corner of my eye, I notice a group of girls whispering and pointing in her direction.

Hmph. The first day and they’re already targeting her to join their clique? They move fast.

“Well,” Aiwa-sensei claps as the last person sits down. “That’s the end of that. Lets move on shall we?”

And so, the day proceeds. By the time lunch rolls around—

“Oi~! Daisuke~!”

“Hm?”

I look up from the bulletin board I was stapling flyers too. A small figure with long red hair comes running up to me, a small bag in her hand. The girl stops with gasp, before flashing a bright grin at me. I reflexively smile back – its almost natural at this point.

“Hey hey, what’re you doing?” She asks, looking at the board. “Putting something up for a club you’re in?”

“Nothing that positive,” I reply with a stretch. “I’m putting up flyers for my mom’s business.”

“Eh? Whys that? What’s she do, what’s she do?”

The girl is now at my elbow, trying to read one of the ones I’m holding. I quickly fold them up and putting them back in my bag. The girl gives out a sigh, but I explain anyway.

“She’s a martial arts instructor. Most of her students she gets from this school. So—“

“So she wants you to advertise for her,” Rei nods. “I see, I see. It makes sense, but…”

“But?”

“If she really wanted to advertise,” she continues, a serious look on her face. “She’d have jackets. And posters. And radio ads. And even put a sticker or two on someone’s car!” She clenches her fist dramatically. “Though, that sounds really cool! Hey Daisuke, you should show me some moves!”

“…”

The two of them…Sastumi Rei and Atsuko Mina should never meet. The resulting cooperation would be disastrous.

“That said, we should eat,” Rei smiles, waving the bag in her hand in front of her. “Know any good places? Hey, you could introduce me to your friends.”

Introduce her to my friends…?

Well, I surely wouldn’t introduce her to Tsurugi. No, I wouldn’t ever willingly do something like that to a female. That man is the enemy of all women, yessiree. Not only do I not wish to expose Rei to that, but I don’t completely wish death on Tsurugi either, no no no.

At the same time, the guy I met this morning, Miwa…I don’t even know how to find him. On top of that, I can’t exactly introduce someone to some I just met this morning, now can I? That simply seems wrong. I don’t even know anything about him, save for the fact that he’s an acquaintance of Tsurugi’s.

Well, there’s…

…Wait a minute.

“I haven’t seen him since last semester, come to think,” I mutter as we stop at a bench. The girl tilts her head.

“Him? Who’s him?”

“A friend of mine for last year,” I say. “What was his name…”

“If he was your friend,” she tilts her head the other way now. “How come you don’t know his name?”

“I…don’t know. It completely slipped my mind just now…”

“Slipped your mind…”

She nods her head along with me, as if agreeing with something I said. I’m not entirely sure what the girl is up to, in fact. Perhaps she’s just pacifying me, or maybe—

“You know what I think?”

She cuts my thought off with a snap of the finger.

“Your friend? He was a secret agent of sorts. Maybe he was a part of some secret organization. Or…oh! Maybe he was kidnapped, maybe?”

…Eh…?

“Of course,” she unwraps her bag of food, opening a small plastic container and popping a piece of boiled egg in her mouth. “He could always be just fine. Or…” She swallows. “Maybe he’s being experimented on. I wonder…”

The corners of my mouth twitch.

This girl…is she some kind of conspiracy buff? That’s the only explanation for such a warped way of thinking. And with such a serious expression…what kind of person have I been talking to?

“You okay, Daisuke?” She asks, tilting her head once again. “You’ve been staring again…it there something on my face?” She wipes her cheek sheepishly, but I shake my head. The fact that there may be something on your face has nothing to do with how weirded out I am after that statement of yours. She continues to eat her meal happily as I take a seat next to her.

And there, out of the corner of my eye, I see it coming towards me.

“Shit! Rei!”

“What?” She gives an alarmed look. “What’s going on?”

I don’t answer, instead standing up and attempting to get her to come with me. But its too late.

“Oi~ Atsuko!”

Tsurugi Jin’s enormous afro moves in towards me like a cloud of darkness. Behind him is Miwa, who looks as if he had been snatched out of his classroom minutes after it ended. The look of bewilderment on his face is only matched by my look of pity on his person.

Tsurugi comes to a stop in front of me. His gaze then leaves me and quickly shoots towards Rei.

“Ohoh! You found that red from this morning!”

He smiles. Rei smiles back in return.

“Satsumi Rei, pleasure to meet you,” she says, extending a hand.

“Tsurugi Jin, blessed,” he replies, taking it. The two shake with a happy smile on their faces. I watch warily. Its too early to make the call, but I simply know this idiot is going to do something stupid. But he simply releases her hand and turns to me.

“Hey, Atsuko. Can I talk to you for a minute over there?”

“Uh, sure.”

He drags me away before I can say anything else. Stopping a good several feet away from Miwa and Rei, he releases me and—

“How dare you, Atsuko!”

—Shouts such a ridiculous thing at me. I feel the corners of my mouth take a sharp dive on my face.

“How dare I what? I didn’t do anything.”

“Exactly,” he says. “How dare you not do anything!”

“You’re not making any sense!”

“That girl,” he points over my shoulder. “Satsumi Rei…do you realize what you are standing next to?”

“What I’m—“

“That’s a hottie, man! Grade A! Did you see those legs? Man, I bet she has the best backside ever—“

“Wait a minute.”

I bring my hand up immediately, taking in the conversation so far. Taking a breath, I release it and recompose myself.

“You’re mad at me,” I say slowly. “Because I didn’t introduce you to a girl I met maybe three or so hours ago. A girl I met in my class, which you don’t have. A girl you just came across. You’re mad at me?”

“Yes.”

“You wanted me,” I continue. “To seek you out so you can meet said girl and…well, say hello. Because that’s what you just did. You shook her hand and said hello.”

“That I did.”

“…I was supposed to look for you?”

“Yes! That’s what friends do! They introduce friends to hot girls!”

“Dude, she’s tiny! She could pass for an elementary student!”

“Elementary students don’t have asses like that, man!”

I shake my head. The enemy of all women is standing in front of me, being the enemy to all women without shame. I turn and make my way back to Rei and Miwa while he comes running behind me, shouting. Opening my mouth to say something, Rei quickly cuts me off with a single raised finger.

“The bell is about to ring. We should get back to class.”

Right on cue, the bell goes off. The girl smiles at me, running to the door and disappearing inside. Miwa smiles.

“She’s cute,” he says. “You’re lucky, Atsuko-san. I wish I had a girl like Satsumi-sempai in my class.”

“I wish I had a girl that had Satsumi-san’s ass,” Tsurugi cuts in, making motions with his hands of an obscene variety. The two of us sigh.

And, when the end of the day came…

“Adios, Daisuke! Tsurugi-san! Miwa-san! See you all tommorow.”

I found myself with this group once at the front gate.

“H-hey, do you need one of us to walk you home,” Tsurugi asks. “I mean, it goes against my code to let a girl go home alone. You never know—“

“Oh don’t you worry,” she winks. “I’m a lot tougher than I look. Bye bye, guys.”

She waves as she walks off. The three of us stand there watching as she disappears in the difference. Tsurugi claps his hands together.

“So! Lets go do something to celebrate our first day of class. We should—“

“You’re going to say video games,” I interrupt. “The same arcade as usual, I bet.” The smile and nod from his end is enough for me to pull my cellphone out of my pocket. “Sure, I’m up. Let me make a phone call, a’right?”

This is Atsuko Mina of Atsuko Gym. Sorry, I’m not in right now, but if you leave your name and a message, I’ll—“

Never mind,” I close the phone right back up. “Lets just get there and back quick before she asks questions.”

Haha,” Tsurugi smiles. “We should stop by and pay your Mom a visit. Does she still look as hot as she did last year?”

“If you mean ‘yes, she can still kick your ass without breaking a sweat,’” I say, smirking. “Then yes, she’s as hot as she was last year.”

A great memory, that. Tsurugi, in his infinite wisdom, decided to pay my mom a visit and—

Hey Tsurugi, you know tae kwon do, right?”

Yeah, I took it for a few years—“

Oh oh, let me see! Come on, Tsurugi-chan, spar with me!”

The resulting skirmish was enough to leave the guy with a bruise that last several months. We even went to the doctor to see if she had ruptured any organs or anything.

“Lets…” he shudders as we climb onto the subway. “Lets not talk about that. I think she may have screwed up my bones a bit.”

“You were the one who wanted to show off,” I point out.

“Sounds like Tsurugi-sempai,” Miwa muses. “I remember that one time a girl tricked him into belly flopping into a puddle…”

“What? How’d that happen?”

Well, she was like ‘I only date guys brave enough to dive into the marsh,” Miwa laughs as Tsurugi glowers. “But the marsh was just a flooded bit of grass. But there he went, like some kind of super hero—“

“Man, she wasn’t even that hot,” Tsurugi grumbled. “Totally wasn’t worth it…”

“Oh? Didn’t you call her some sort of goddess?”

Miwa and I share a laugh as the subway moves. I lose my footing in the moment, taking a slight step backwards as the sub jerks to start. My elbow collides with someone.

“Ah, excuse—“

“It’s not a problem.”

I hear a girl’s voice behind me. Glancing over my shoulder, a young woman in a black, frilly dress holds on to a strap, a parasol in her right hand. Her hair is white, like paper, and cut in a short bob cut that obscures her eyes a bit from where I’m standing. I immediately notice her height; after hanging around Rei so long today, this woman’s height is a wake up call. She’s easily three to five inches taller than me.

I seem to be staring a lot at women today, because she tilts her head at me.

“Is something the matter?” She asks.

“Nothing,” I reply. Its impossible to make out her features with her hair obscuring her face. I’m actually curious to see who this person could be, but I can tell I’m reaching my limit of how long as I observe her. “Its nothing at all. Excuse me.”

And with one more glance over my shoulder, I turn back to Miwa and Tsurugi.

And so, we finally arrive at our destination; An arcade at Shin-Nakamise Shopping Street, Akihabara. The electric city.

And so, I find myself asking a serious question.

“Why,” I say as I roll my eyes for the tenth, maybe twentieth time today. “Am I still with this guy?”

The three of us stood within the cold interior of the arcade as Tsurugi rambled on about his sharp shooter skills while slipping 100 yen in the machine. Given the past 2000 he had slipped into this very machine before on a good day, I couldn’t help but doubt the guy as he removed the plastic gun from the holster and pointed at the screen.

Here it comes,” he shouts as he aims. “The shooting technique to the sharpshooter demon, Tsurugi Jin!”

And after ten minutes, he’s feeding another 100 yen coin into the slot Miwa and I both lean in over his shoulder.

If you aim up a bit,” I suggested. “You might hit something…”

If I aim up, it’ll be too high and I’ll shoot above his head!” Snaps Tsurugi, firing at random.

If you move to the left, you might actually hit his head and not the space between his shoulder and ear…” Miwa added.

So much for the Sharpshooter Demon,” I whisper.

Sh-shut up!”

It was pointless to argue at this point. Miwa only sighed as the the ‘demon’ continued to fire at nothing. Well, as far as I can see, this was as good a time as ever to escape. Giving a weak little ‘sorry’ to Miwa, I made my way to the exit.

Haah, what to do…”

I stretch as the warm air hits me. Akihabara is only one section of Tokyo – as long as I make it back at a reasonable time, exploring the entire place is a good enough thing for me to do. I just need to think of where to go first.

Well, I could always go get something to eat,” I mutter. “Or…well, I have just enough cash to buy a new outfit. I wonder if they still have that jacket I liked over at—“

I trail off. Across the street, I see a familiar parasol being held. The owner walks down the street absent mindedly, a silver cellphone in her hand. Taking a closer look, the black dress like much like one a gothic lolita would wear – she’s even wearing those high boots that they often wear.

I knew she wasn’t taller than me,” I mutter, watching her go.

Or I would have, but I found myself following her for some reason. I didn’t even realize I was doing it until I stopped at an intersection with her, just behind her as she continued to watch the screen of that cellphone in her hand.

The light of the intersection turns from red to green. The girl snaps her cellphone shut.

Here it is,” she says. “ETO Kuwagata.”

Unconsciously, I ask the question of ‘what is’, but my words are drowned out as the sound of metal scraping across metal fills the air. My eyes immediately dart to the source of such a horrible noise as everyone else covers their ears.

My brain stops functioning for a second. I feel everything stop as I take this thing into my sights.

Where did it come from? Judging by the damage around it, it had been tearing through buildings and causing chaos along its path. It certainly was big enough to do such a thing without a problem.

I…didn’t even know there were bipedal Stag Beetles, let alone ones the size of trucks.

It tilts its head back and roar. Immediately, my brain resumes function.

I notice immediately the people around me are scattering, screaming, and getting out of the area. I try to do the same, but my legs are frozen. The crowd that once surrounded me and this woman has completely dispersed by the time she finally takes a step forward. The parasol twirls as if nothing were happening.

The stag beetle roars again. She continues to walk forward as if were nothing. Enormous wings begin to beat, kicking up a strong gust of wind. My legs manage to hold me as I recoil, but she continues to approach.

It charges. She stands still. The parasol twirls. Its jaws extend – they’re more than large enough to clip her in half and devour her, but she never moves.

The strength returns to my legs. I run.

Are you out of your freaking mind—!?!”

I scream such a thing. She jumps, turning to face me as the jaws approach.

A civilian—!?”

Her right hand points to the monster as the breath from its maw hits her body. Then something unexpected happens.

I wasn’t sure when they first appeared, but they’re everywhere. They sit there, floating menacingly in the air. Had I not stopped in my tracks when I did, I would have been in their range myself and would have suffered their wrath as well.

Unflinchingly, this woman stares at me as hundreds of arrows skewer the beetle called Kuwagata. As it crashes to the ground, she approaches me. The parasol is closed and tossed aside. I can see her face clearly now – her facial features are soft, but they are sharply contrasted by the ruby red eyes that glare at me.

What are you doing here?” She demands. “You’re that boy from the train, aren’t you?”

I-what just happened here?”

That’s not for you to know.”

Not for me to know?

What is that suppose to mean?” I ask. “You plan to say that huge monster behind you—“

There is no monster. You didn’t see any of this.”

She says such a thing sharply. I bite my lip.

You know, I’ve heard there were strange events happening around town, but—“

I’m telling you, there’s nothing strange here. Get out of here before I force you out.”

The tone of her voice is stern, her red eyes narrowed at me. I circle her, approaching the creature’s corpse.

So. This isn’t strange—“

G-Get away from there! You don’t know—!!”

Don’t know what? It’s dead, isn’t it?”

I’m telling you, get—“

All the sound around me suddenly stops. A funny feeling fills my chest. I blink for a moment as she stares at me with an expression of terror and shock. My eyebrows come together as I stare at her. I try to speak.

Wh—urgk!!”

The words are drowned out as I cough into my hand. Pulling it way from my mouth, something warm and sticky drips from my palm.

Warm, sticky, and red.

Blood? I look down at my chest, trying to find that funny feelings source. At that point, I realize why I feel funny and where the red fluid is coming from.

Something is coming out of my chest.

Something sharp. Something curved. Something like a scythe-shaped claw. And its jutting out of my body. The creature behind me drops its claw as I fall with it, bleeding quite profusely. The monster climbs to what remains of its legs, trying to flee.

I can feel something cut through the wind above me. I crawl, leaving a trail of blood while the woman shouts something. My body eventually stops at a wall. I roll myself over, planting my back against the wall. Feebly, I rip my shirt open at the large hole and take a look.

Kh—!!”

I can see clean through. A tiny sliver of light can be seen escaping through me. I gurgle – its amazing I haven’t died instantly. The hole is large enough to see through, but still small enough that my hand can’t fit through it. And the blood is coming out slowly. I gasp – did it puncture my heart? Maybe it ripped out a lung. Either way, even a high school student like me knows well enough that a wound like this is fatal.

Hah. Hahaha…”

I laugh.

You never realize how much blood the human body can hold until you watch it pour out of you.

I think its about six quarts? Maybe its eight. Perhaps I’m mistaken and its measured in gallons. But there’s a lot of it. And its all the same color, same viscosity, thickness, and probably doesn’t taste a thing like the tomato soup it looks like.

I also notice how calm one can sound when they realize they’re dying. Dying slowly. I shouldn’t forget that part; ever second I lay here against this wall, I slowly slip away.

And the worst part about it is that…well, they say your life flashes before your eyes before you die. But I’ve yet to see it.

“Heh, is this someone’s way to tell me I didn’t accomplish anything in life?”

I laugh, but the taste of iron fills my mouth. Spitting, a thick splat of red coats the ground in front of me. Laying my head back, I put my hand on my chest.

The blood is still coming. Not just dripping either – occasionally, it spurts, leaving me in a horrible fit of pain for a few seconds before returning to normal.

In fact, I think the blood loss has began to take its toll, I think. My vision is filling with black spots here and there and I’m beginning to feel quite light headed.

“What,” I ask myself as I slide down this wall. “Did I accomplish in this sixteen years of life? What am I going to leave behind aside from bloodstains for someone to clean up…?”

It is at that point, where despair began to creep in, that I heard her voice.

“There you are…”

Someone steps into my field of vision. Judging the shape of the silhouette, its a woman. I try to lift my head to see her face, but it stops as far as her legs.

“You really should have left when I said so. Look at you, you’re a mess.”

I try to give a witty reply of my own, but I find my words drowned out by another hacking cough. The taste of iron shavings fills my mouth and coats my lips. The woman in front of me sighs.

“…I’m not supposed to do this…but this is one of those emergencies,” she shifts her weight. “Listen, you’re going to die soon. Your internal organs are ruptured and you’re losing a lot of blood. So, I’m going to give you another chance.”

Something is held in her hand. I can see a glint of light reflecting off it. She kneels, tilting my head back. I catch a glimpse of her features: They are both beautiful and exotic. Her eyes alone fill my chest with a warm sensation, a dark maroon color—

No. No, there’s actually heat in my chest. It’s hot. Burning. I feel like I’m on fire.

Why is there something sticking out of my chest? Is this the last few minutes of life for me?

My head is laid in this woman’s lap. My body spasms violently.

“Shh. Calm down,” she whispers, as if putting a child to sleep. “It’s alright. I won’t let you die…”

My body relaxes as she strokes my hair. The spots in my vision grow in size. Before I black out, I see the last twenty four hours play in my head once more. I croak out words, but they’re unintelligible. She shushes me with a finger to my lips.

Don’t worry. You’re not going to die,” she whispers. “You’ll make it through this…”

…Who…what are you supposed to be?”

A gentle laugh escapes her.

What am I supposed to be?” She says as if I asked the stupidest question ever. “Don’t be silly. I’m supposed to be me.”

An Esper.”

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